This presentation will connect the colonial inception of legal systems across the Latin American region that enforced racialized social hierarchies with present-day local discourses on the legal rights of indigenous and black peoples. Starting with an examination of the politics of social hierarchy during colonial times, I will explore how liberal ideas in postcolonial Latin America posed a significant ideological and practical tension for criollo elites: to reconcile their aspiration to be free from the constraints of colonial rule while keeping the legacies of colonial racial segregation alive. While the incorporation of foreign models of constitutional equality into deeply hierarchical societies has been vastly studied, dominant literatures place too much attention on the ambivalence of local elites in the enactment of liberal constitutionalism. Moreover, they depict indigenous and black peoples as passive recipients of racial ideologies and racist legislation. Alternatively, I draw on new historical narratives that explore how these groups appropriated the language of liberal law to fight racist oppression. Focusing on examples mainly situated in Ecuador and Bolivia, I address the trajectories of the tensions between constitutional paradigms of legal equality and social subordination throughout the twentieth century. In light of this long history of the legal regulation of difference in Latin America, my presentation will ultimately reflect on the emergence of ethnic political movements in the age of multicultural constitutionalism and on the practices of collaboration between indigenous and black peoples, a relationship that remains until today understudied.
Dr. Carolina Silva-Portero is a legal scholar and practitioner whose interests focus on the intersection between race and law, comparative law, race and ethnic studies, anti-discrimination law, legal history, constitutional studies, human rights, and gender. She obtained her Science of Juridical Doctor (S.J.D.) degree at Harvard Law School in 2020. Dr. Silva-Portero has served as an advisor to international and domestic human rights organizations and previously worked as a legal advisor for the Ecuadorian Congress and as a senior researcher and acting director of a government think-tank in Ecuador doing research and policy analysis on human rights and constitutional law.